Is The McLaren Speedtail Impressive Enough?

The year is 2018, and nostalgia and horsepower go hand in hand.

The Porsche 935 and the freshly-unveiled McLaren Speedtail are testament to this. Both manufacturers and the public love to see poster cars of old reimagined, reinvented and reinvigorated for the 21st century.

McLaren F1 Speedhunters by Jordan Butters-1

McLaren’s unleashing today is especially timely for me, as just two weeks ago I was lucky enough to find myself stood in McLaren’s Technology Centre, in front of the McLaren F1 XP5 prototype, admiring its lines and considering how well it had aged in the 20 years since it was first unveiled. This is a car that could do 243mph in 1998! It got me thinking about what an F1 for today’s world would be like…


Little did I realise that somewhere in the very same building, there was already that exact thing tucked away awaiting release.


The Speedtail is what McLaren is classing as a ‘Hyper-GT’, and the F1 influence is clear as day, right down to the extended rear deck, central driver’s seat and accompanying pods for a pair of brave (and svelte) passengers.

The Speedtail’s structure is a fully carbon fibre monocage, wrapped in a full carbon tear-drop shaped body. It’s not a small thing either, measuring 5.2 metres in length from nose to tail. There’s some clever practical technology bundled inside too: active rear aero, retractable rear-view cameras in place of mirrors, and a windscreen that can be electronically tinted at the touch of a button to remove the need for sun visors. Those front wheel covers are fixed directly to the hub, and remain static, directing clean air via the front bumper ducts down the side of the car.

Love or loathe these somewhat self-indulgent hypercar projects, us mere mortals can only hope that some of these lavish ideas trickle down to other road cars.


Join me as we ogle at the numbers: a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 with electric motor assistance delivers 1,036bhp via a 7-speed gearbox to the rear wheels. McLaren have omitted the details of a 0-60mph time, instead releasing a blistering 0-300km/h (186mph) time of just 12.8 seconds. I suspect that’s due to it not reaching 60mph as quickly as the all-wheel drive Bugatti Chiron.

If the Chiron is all about brute power, the Speedtail represents elegance. The McLaren is down on power, but 600kg lighter and more streamlined.


For those wanting all-out speed, a special ‘Velocity’ mode can be enabled which adjusts the active rear ailerons, retracts the rear-view cameras, and lowers the Speedtail by 35mm. The end result is a claimed 402km/h (250mph) top speed.

Hang on a sec. That’s only 7mph faster than the now 20-year old F1 could go, and McLaren didn’t even engineer the F1 for V-Max. With all the technological advances in motoring, and all that power and aerodynamics, is 7mph all we can muster up?


There are a couple of trains of thought as to why the Speedtail isn’t that fast. Either the limiting factor is the tyres – despite Pirelli designing a tyre specifically for the Speedtail, faster top speeds would call for bigger compromises in other areas – or it’s not inconceivable that McLaren is holding a card up its sleeve, and the Speedtail will, at some point in the near future, ‘surprisingly’ go faster.

The other option is of course that McLaren see 250mph as ‘enough’. Realistically, will anyone drive it that fast, or want to drive it faster?


But I digress. As with seemingly all of the truly exciting new cars that are unleashed on the world in modern times, all 106 examples of the new Speedtail have been sold already, before the official announcement was even made. Not that many of us – well, certainly not myself – will likely have the spare GBP£1.75million (US$2,238,410), plus tax, kicking around to place an order, but still – owning the McLaren Speedtail is a very exclusive club.


I absolutely love the McLaren F1; it remains, in my eyes, one of the best looking and most exciting cars ever produced. However, I find it hard to get as excited about the Speedtail as I remain about its predecessor: Modern hypercars like the Speedtail feel much more like PR exercises than daring probes into new and undiscovered areas. Yes, it’s undoubtedly going to be immensely quick, and advanced, and sexy, but compared to what’s already out there, it’s not breaking new ground – certainly not like the F1 did back in 1998.

The F1 was something so wild and new that it still remains impressive today. Will we feel the same about the Speedtail in 20 years time? I can’t see that happening myself.

Jordan Butters
Instagram: jordanbutters



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I can't even imagine what an F1 equivalent paradigm shift would look like today - I think part of the F1's staying power was the fact that it did things no one previously thought possible, so today's version would need to do the same. Things like a 500km/h top speed, insane specific output, cutting edge technology and engineering etc. Or, it could go the opposite way and match or exceed the performance of modern hypercars, but with things manufacturers can't (or won't) really do anymore, like a manual gearbox, no power steering, or sub-1000kg weight. Either way, I think you are right in saying that the speedtail won't be remembered in the same way as the F1, but regardless, it is very very nice to look at.


Paradigm shift was the Koenigsegg Regera/Agera - the transmissionless one with the free-valve-train. It is still the fastest car today, burdened only by tire tech and lack of v-max focused aerodynamics (which the Bugatti and SSC have). This car, like the Benz One and the Bug Divo, are limiting themselves because of FEEL. They want a specific “brand character” because the tech that is too fast for any human is already here. What use is a car that doubles the performance of 2010’s ultracars (LaF, 918, P1, Zonda R, etc) when our fastest, most talented drivers seem to all put down the same times save a fraction of a second? Theoretically, the engineers will tell you they can “go faster”, but without AI assistance or cybernetic “enhancements”, we’ve hit evolutionary “bedrock”... it’ll take thousands of years of driving fast cars to develop the prototype human that can drive “double”.
It boils down to feel and character now that we can make cars that out perform our stock of potential drivers. Mclaren knows this, like All the other companies -they aren’t dumb. Why chase making a 300+ mph road car when the lamd speed record is over 500mph and no road is designed to suit that speed? Pointless and stupid. On the other hand, design a car that embodies a manufacturer’s history, soul, and legend? That’s the future. The rich will all take to the skies anyways sooner or later and your car will be a subscription that drives you... but when you hit that track on the weekend you don’t want to be hurt, you want to be emotional about your passion for the speed that (insert brand here) can only bring you.
The Speedtail is great, as is because it respects its’ elder by leaving that legend intact, and how it follow’s the F1’s ghost is by simply refining it’s accessibility through fresher tech and materials. It’s about the tradition of the automobile, keeping the flame alive.


Side note: The Regera does have a single-speed transmission, but conventional valvetrain (FreeValve has not been commercialized quite yet. It's slated to be released first on some Chinese crossover thing.) The Agera has a "conventional" engine and transmission.


"What use is a car that doubles the performance of 2010’s ultracars (LaF, 918, P1, Zonda R, etc) when our fastest, most talented drivers seem to all put down the same times save a fraction of a second?" - Well said, but from an emotional standpoint isn't that the point? To be build a car that challenges our perception of reality, or rather the perception of reality of high speed drivers.
The F1 was the stuff of dreams carbonized into reality by Gordon Murray. The allure of the F1 was the fact that it challenged the limitations of automobile engineering, the fact that it held the record for the fastest road car for a significant amount of time. The mythical status of the Veyron remained with its the then impossible HP output. The Regera with its no gear box but what about the Speedtail? It is hard to maintain the desirability of a car without providing some desirable attributes, side mirrors and flexible carbon don't do enough justice!


Great answer! You’ve put into words what my brain couldn’t work out on a Friday.

My only point would be that I highly doubt McLaren expects people to chase down 250mph. Much like the car’s peak HP figures it’s a number to grab your attention. In that case why not 300mph? The numbers don’t add up to me - I’ve a feeling that, if the tyres can support it, this will go over 250mph and, of course, there will be a video team there to ensure we see it.


I think the paradigm shift for this generation of post-hypercars will be the Aston Valkyrie - allowing one of the most talented motorsport engineers to create from a (relatively) blank sheet of paper, like the F1 did with Murray / Stevens

To me, the Speedtail looks like an 80s car design student's idea of what a supercar might look like in the future, rather than a truly forward-looking design. The roof-mounted switches etc are awesome though. Bit gimmicky, but would be an incredible experience to fire it up


the part that gets me excited is seeing how this will fit in with the WEC's idea of a hyper car category replacing the LMP1 prototypes. seeing a race version of this go head to head with the likes of the AM Valkyrie and MB Project One offers some intriguing potential to racing where the technology is there but the competition isn't always.

as far as the 106 pre-sold... yeah, how many of those will ever see 200 let alone higher? but ultimate performance bragging rights will always be a requirement of hyper cars. and this may not win those but i suspect there would be intrinsic performance benefits compared to the (wonderful!) F1 and other hypercars. i.e. reliability/maintenance, drivability, economy, handling etc.

i'd just like to see those comparisons on a track in a race dynamic!


"The end result is a claimed 330km/h (250mph) top speed."
This maths doesn't add up.


Good spot. Should be 402km/h. I shall reprimand someone.


Holy bejesus is that a great looking car. It's got a 60's-retro vibe to it. I also love whatever that material is that's being used on the steering wheel insert and the inner roof.

The F1 is still the coolest car on the block imho. It's gonna be tough for any car to be a spectacle 20 years on now. Good luck getting the mainstream world excited about a car like that again.


I also love whatever that material is that's being used on the steering wheel insert and the inner roof.

Looks like forged carbon fiber


Reminds me of a 2018 XJ220 to be honest, especially in this colour. I really like it.


Looks like a Jaguar XJ 220 to me


I don't see this as a successor to the F1, imo that was the P1 and I think it did that job wonderfully.
This looks like mclaren is trying to emulate a multimillion dollar yacht. Elegant, luxurious and hopelessly impractical

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

I am trying to imagine how long the car can be if McLaren decides to make an LT version. LOL!


I wondered why this wasn't labelled LT too


Of course I wouldn't spend my money on that mclaren. It looks like unfinished product...


I think the last time I REALLY was impressed and excited by the "New Best and Greatest" flavor of the month car was the Ferrari F40 back when I was a kid, because the car was the best combination of Race Car and Sexy Beast ever let loose on the masses and meant to be owned and used by the masses.
Ever since them IMO the manufacturers go more towards awkward/"updated" styling cues and massive un-useable HP numbers, and of course FAR inflated pricing. Most of us mere mortals will never even see one much less drive one, and as mentioned very few people can handle a car on public roads at 250 and which then makes the whole exercise pointless except as a penis-extender.
Hard to get too excited over that.


Looks great, but the over all design and impression is really sterile. Typical McLaren. They don't really build an experience so much as a moving spread sheet. Not a fan at all despite the fact its very good looking and will certainly be very fast. Would not cough up any cash for something like this. Long list of cars that are faster / more badass looking / stir the blood before this one.


GTR version to come?

Release the ‘tame’ version to wet the lips
The blow is away with the ‘GTR’ version

Just a thought


short answer: carbon fiber.


Stunningly elegant hyper car. So far removed from anything I'll ever get to drive.


I've often thought that - since aerodynamics don't work the way you think aerodynamics work - every single line, angle and surface that makes an F-15, a Lamborghini or the Space Shuttle look cool was put there over the express OBJECTIONS of the aerodynamicists.


Alonso in a Speedtail vs Hamilton in a Project One, at Le Mans. Let’s make that happen!!


this car is not rwd, probably more awd